Young Mayor: A Fresh Vision for a City In Need

By Ethan Magram

A quick Google search of “America’s youngest mayors” yields a Wikipedia article as the top result. List of the youngest mayors in the United States – that’s the title of said article. Follow that link, scroll down about half a page, and the first name one can see in the list of America’s youngest appointed mayors is Mayor Billy Barlow of Oswego, New York.

Barlow was 25 years of age when he was elected to be mayor of Oswego in 2016. His political career began at the age of 22, the year after he graduated from college, when he was elected to serve on Oswego’s city council.

The most significant talking point when it comes to Billy Barlow always tends to be his age. But if you look past that, you can see that Barlow has been at the forefront of substantial positive change for the city of Oswego, and considering the city’s dark history, Barlow’s youthful energy and optimistic vision seems to already be making an important impact.

This energy and attitude can be attributed to Barlow’s upbringing, which includes a surprising lack of politics and surplus of hard work.

Growing Up Behind a Concessions Stand

William J. “Billy” Barlow Jr, was born in 1989 and grew up in Oswego. William Barlow Sr. was, and still is, the owner of a mobile food concessions stand, aptly named Barlow’s Concessions. At a young age, Billy would start to work with his family at the concessions business, often traveling around the state and the country on a weekly basis to help operate the stand at events such as fairs and concerts.

When Thursday night rolled around, it was time to go away for the weekend and work with them, wherever we were,” Billy said.

Billy was never allowed to play video games, and was only occasionally allowed to play with his friends. A majority of his time growing up since the age of 13 was spent working the concessions stand for his parents – his employers.

By the time Billy was old enough to drive, the idea of working the stand was ingrained within him; he was working by himself, and because he wanted to.

“I made myself work and wanted to work…” said Barlow. “I would rather work than go out and have fun with my friends. I just didn’t think I was missing much and I could go out and make money.”

Barlow had spent his entire time in high school working, and when he had graduated and began attending Arizona State University, he didn’t stop.

While Barlow was at Arizona State, he had his father send equipment from the concessions company so he could work the stand at events in Arizona to help pay for his education. He also held a part-time job with the school.

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Technology and Emergency Management, Billy bought a house in Arizona and continued to run the concessions business in the area. Soon after, he realized that most of his friends from school were moving back home, so Billy considered doing the same.

Being away from Oswego for five years and only returning in the summers and winters left him acutely aware of the city’s general decline in the time he was gone.

“The dive was so deep that I couldn’t believe it…” said Barlow.

Witnessing this dive encouraged Barlow to taking action, and after moving back home and the fortunate circumstance of a vacant city council seat, Billy Barlow made the decision to run for the position of the 5th ward of Oswego’s city council at 22 years old. This marked the beginning of Barlow’s political career in Oswego.

“It’s amazing to me that back then, when I was 22 years old, I made the decision to run,” exclaimed Barlow. “Because I sit here now…[and think] kudos to that kid!”

Listen to Billy Barlow speak on Oswego’s decline in his time away.

Confronting the City’s Dark Past

Barlow during his city council campaign (courtesy WRVO Public Media)

Barlow was elected to the 5th ward seat of the city council. But from the very beginning, he knew that, in order to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish, he had to run for mayor.

“It starts at the top,” said Barlow. “The leadership wasn’t there, there were no decisions being made good or bad.”

The mayor in office prior to Barlow was Tom Gillen, a Democrat who, in 2013, shut down the city’s code enforcement department, redirecting their responsibilities to the fire department. Code enforcement, as well as conflicts with the fire department, would later be issues taken on by Barlow in his time as mayor, a testament to his thoughts on the prior administration.

Even before Gillen was elected to office, Oswego has had a dark history with regard to the mayoral position. In 2006, the mayor at the time, John Gosek, was arrested for arranging to pay $250 for a sexual encounter with two teenage girls, according to Syracuse.com. This arrangement turned out to be a sting operation performed by the FBI, and Gosek was taken into custody and served 33 months in federal prison.

Between the scandals, a dismal economy, and consistent tax hikes, there was plenty of reason to be hopeless when it came to improving the city. Barlow, though, remained optimistic, and made the next step in what he believed was the answer to fixing Oswego: he ran for mayor.

Barlow’s First Term: A Fast Impact

Billy Barlow ran for mayor in 2015 against incumbent Tom Gillen (not endorsed by his party, but instead as a write-in candidate) and democrat Amy Tresidder. Barlow won by a landslide with 54 percent of the vote, beating runner-up Tresidder by 12 percentage points.

Barlow, at the time, became the youngest mayor to be elected in Oswego history, and continues to be the youngest mayor in New York state.

Since his inauguration in January of 2016, Barlow has already made great strides in trying to improve the decline he once saw as a college student just four years prior. Since he took office, Barlow helped the city in its successful application for New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, or DRI, which grants $10 million to the city of Oswego to improve its downtown infrastructure. Barlow considers this one of his most important accomplishments.

Barlow talks about the DRI.

Barlow has also found success in establishing an effective building code enforcement program and even in lowering taxes, which is an issue that has plagued the city for decades.

Current Oswego City Councilmen Ronald Tesoriero, Robert Corradino, and Robert Wilmott (pictured left to right at the table) have high praises for Mayor Barlow’s work thus far, especially with the aforementioned tax deductions.

“[We’ve had] the first tax deduction without using general funds in over 20 years,” said Councilman Corradino.

“He listened to everybody in this building, and everybody that worked for him,” added Councilman Tesoriero. “So I’ve got to give him credit for that.”

The councilmen continued with nothing but great things to say about the mayor’s code enforcement initiatives, as well as the way he handled the conflict with the fire department.

“He was decisive, he did a very good job in proving is point…that we have too many firefighters, and there was some abuse with how they ran the overtime situation,” said Councilman Corradino. “For him to take on an institution like the fire department…that, to me, spoke volumes.”

Councilman Corradino on Mayor Barlow’s success with the Fire Department.

Speaking Volumes for Everybody

Billy Barlow has accomplished a great amount for the city of Oswego in his six years of political experience. Barlow’s decisions in office have had a great influence on the Oswego community, and he makes sure that everyone benefits from his actions as mayor.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for Mayor Barlow,” said Councilman Tesoriero with regard to his city council position. “…I saw a vision that he had, the energy, the wanting to make a difference for the city of Oswego and knowing that we can go much forward.”

Mayor Barlow does not do much besides work, a quality he has carried with him since his childhood. But Barlow’s work is the most important thing to him of anything he could be doing.

“This office, and working for my neighbors, trying to help my community, is what I live for right now,”said Barlow. “I have to force myself to go home and shut the computer, because I do enjoy doing it.”

Barlow plans on running for reelection next year. Even though Barlow has only served one term thus far, the city council members are very confident that Mayor Barlow has already put the city in a good position for when he moves on, whenever that may be.

“When he finally goes to move on to whatever career he’s going to continue with,” said Councilman Wilmott, “he’s going to leave this city in a much better spot, and he’s going to leave it a lot easier for the next mayor to step in…no doubt.

“No doubt,” repeats Councilman Tesoriero.

“No doubt,” says Councilman Corradino.

No doubt.

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